You are on page 1of 12

Greek Words for Teach

Roy B. Zuck
of the Bible should be patterned after teaching
in the Bible. In other words, the principles of teaching
T
you follow and the techniques you use should be in accord
EACHING

with and not in conflict with those principles stated or illustrated in the Bible.
This is why a study of the Hebrew1 and Greek words for
"teach" and "learn" are basic to effective teaching. Several
educational principles are indicated by the following words in
the Greek New Testament translated by "teach," "learn," or
related words.
GNORIZO

This verb is the casual form of ginosk, "to know." Ginosk


means "to make known, to cause to know." It suggests communicating in such a way that those addressed know what the
communicator wants them to know. This communication of
facts from one person to another is indicated by the fact that
the verb is often followed by an accusative and a dative of
person.2
It is interesting that in about half the occurrences of this
word God is the One making something known. He has made
known His power through the vessels of wrath (Rom. 9:22),
the riches of His glory to the vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:23),
and has made known His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10), the
mystery of His will (Eph. 1:9), and the mystery of Christ
(Rom. 16:26, Eph. 3:3, 5, Col. 1:27).
The idea of revealing previously unknown facts is included
in this verb gnoriz. Paul said he "declared" the gospel (I Cor.
See "Hebrew Words for Teach," Bibliotheca Sacra, 121:228-35, JulySeptember,
1964.
2
For example, "We made known unto you the power and coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ" (II Pet 1:16).
158

GREEK WORDS FOR "TEACH"

159

15:1) ; the shepherds spoke of the message about the birth of


Christ which the angels had made known to them (Luke 2:15) ;
then the shepherds made known to others what they had heard
and seen (Luke 2:17).
Though gnoriz is not translated "teach" in the Authorized
Version, this verb does suggest that teaching involves the revealing of facts to others and thus helping others come to
know these facts.
DIANOIGO

This word, which means "to open," was the word used by
our Lord when He healed a deaf man's ears (Mark 7:34). In
a more figurative sense, this verb is used of the opening of
one's eyes, mind, and heart so the person may understand
spiritual truths. This stresses the divine element essential in
Bible teaching. Only Christ could open the eyes of the Emmaus
disciples so they would know that He was the One with them
(Luke 24:31). Only Christ could open the Scriptures to them
so they would appreciate them and know their meaning (Luke
24:32). Only Christ could open the minds of His disciples so
they could understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Only God
could open the heart of Lydia, that is, "rouse in (her) the
faculty of understanding or the desire of learning."3
Every teacher of spiritual truth must recognize that
whereas he may apply the Word of God to others and seek to
help them apply it to their lives, only God Himself can make
the pupils' hearts open or receptive to the truth.
DIDASKO

This is the common verb for teach. It is interesting to observe that of the almost one hundred occurrences of this verb,
seventy-five are in the Gospels and Acts.
Almost without exception, didask refers to the teaching of
groups. For example Jesus taught the multitudes (Mark 2:13 ;
4:2), the people (Luke 5:2; John 8:2), and His disciples
(Matt. 5:2; Mark 9:31). The fact that He taught in the
synagogues (Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:15; John 6:29),
and in the temple (Matt. 21:23; Mark 14:29; John 7:14), and
in the villages (Mark 6:6), suggests that His teaching was
3 Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,
p. 140.

160

BIBLIOTHECA

SACRA

April, 1965

directed toward groups. Paul, too, taught "everywhere in


every church" (I Cor. 4:17), and he taught the elders of the
Ephesian church (Acts 20:20).4 Thus the usage of didask
indicates that this verb means public instruction, or teaching
of groups. Though our Lord occasionally tutored individuals
one at a time, He certainly did not neglect frequent opportunities to teach pupils in "classes." And His classes varied
in size too from twelve (the disciples) to several hundred.
Didask is used in various ways : sometimes intransitively
(with no object), sometimes with the accusative of the person
(usually plural, as already noted), sometimes with the accusative of the thing taught, and sometimes with two accusatives
one the person and the other the subject matter. This later
usage suggests that teaching includes the imparting of divine
content to persons.
The content that was given in public discourse included
"the way of God in truth" (Matt. 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke
20:21), "the word of the Lord" (Acts 15:35), "the word of
God" (Acts 18:11), "the things of the Lord" (Acts 18:25),
and "those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts
28:31). Thus, without question, the content of Bible teaching
is to be Bible-based and Christ-centered.
The public teaching of God's Word has purpose. Results
are sought, beyond the mere acquisition of facts. This is illustrated by the infinitive that often follows the verb didask.
For example, Christ's disciples said to Him, "Lord teach us
to pray" (Luke 11:1). And Christ commanded them to teach
others " observe all things whatsoever I have commanded
you" (Matt. 28:20).
Five nouns related to didask give additional light on the
meaning of this verb. The adjective didaktokos, which occurs
only twice, means "apt or skillful in teaching." This is to be
a qualification of bishops (I Tim. 3:2), and a characteristic
of all servants of the Lord (II Tim. 2:24).
Didaktos, another adjective, also occurs only twice in the
New Testament, and both times it describes someone instructed
by God (see John 6:45 and I Cor. 2:13).
4 Only three of the almost one hundred occurrences of didask appear to be
exceptions to this observation that this verb refers to the teaching of groups:
John 8:28 ("As my Father taught me") ; Romans 2:21 ("Thou... teachest
another"); and Revelation 2:14 ("Balaam... taught Balak").

GREEK WORDS FOR "TEACH"

161

A didaskalos was one who publicly instructed others concerning the things of God. This word is used of Jesus (it corresponds to the Hebrew rabbi), of John the Baptist (Luke
3:12), of Jewish learned men (didaskaloi is rendered "doctors"
in Luke 2:46), of Paul (I Tim. 2:7; II Tim 1:11) of leaders in
the church, including Barnabas, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts
13:1), and of other gifted men in the body of Christ (I Cor.
12:28; Eph. 4:11).
Two other nouns, didach and didaskalia, seem similar in
meaning. They are both frequently translated by the word
"doctrine." Perhaps some distinction between the two can be
noted if didach is translated "doctrine" (suggesting what is
taught) and if didaskalia is translated "instruction" or "instructing" (suggesting the act of teaching).
Thus those who preach the Word are to "rebuke w i t h . . .
doctrine Ididach]" (II Tim. 4:2). What Christ taughtthe
content of His teaching did not originate with Himself. It
was the doctrine (didach) of God the Father, the One who
sent Him (John 6:16). Believers are to avoid those who cause
divisions "contrary to the doctrine (didach) which [they]
have learned" (Rom. 16:17, also see Acts 2:42 and Rom. 6:17).
If didaskalia is translated "instruction" (rather than "doctrine," as it is frequently rendered in the Authorized Version),
then it is more easily distinguished, from didach.* Thus believers are to "give attendance t o . . . instruction" (the art of
teaching; I Tim. 4:13), should "take heed . . . unto instruction" (I Tim. 4:16), and should not be "carried about by every
wind of instruction" (Eph. 4:14). Christians are expected to
speak of things pertaining to "wholesome (or pure) instruction" ("sound doctrine"; Titus 2:1).
EKT1THEMI

This verb literally means "to set out, expose." Figuratively


it means "to explain, expound, set forth the meaning of." In
this latter sense, ektithmi is used only three times, all in the
book of Acts. Peter "expounded [the matter] by order unto
them" (Acts 11:4). Aquila and Priscilla "expounded unto
[Apollos] the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18:26). In
Rome Paul "expounded and testified the kingdom of God" to
5 It is interesting to note that 15 of the 21 uses of didaskalia are in the
pastoral epistles.

162

BIBLIOTHECA

SACRA

April, 1965

many who came to him (Acts 28:23).


Ektithmi, then, suggests that teaching involves setting
the meaning of truths before the minds of the listeners so that
they may understand those truths. Before pupils can live out
the Word of God, it must be set before them by the Bible
teacher in such a way that its truths are unmistakably clear
and understandable. Explanation leads to understanding, and
understanding must precede personal application.
KATEKEO

From the verb katke we get the English word "catechism." Katkeo a compound of kata ("down") and hakeo
("to sound") literally means "to sound down on." From this
the derived meaning is "to inform" or "to instruct orally."
It is used seven times in the New Testament.
Luke wrote his Gospel so that Theophilus might know the
certainty of those things concerning which he had been informed orally or catechized (Luke 1:4). Apollos was catechized
or orally informed about the way of the Lord (Acts 18:25).6
The Jews had been orally informed by Paul (Acts 21:21, 24).
The Jews were taught orally out of the law (Rom. 2:18). Paul
preferred to speak five understandable words than ten thousand words in another language, so that he could then orally
teach others (I Cor. 14:19). God commands that the person
who has been orally informed about His Word should share
with him who orally teaches (Gal. 6:6).7
Teaching, then, involves the oral passing on of information
about the things of God. It is catechizing, informing by word
of mouth.
MATHETEO

The verb mathete is used only four times in the New


Testament, but the noun mathts is used 228 times in the
Gospels and 28 times in Acts (256 times in all).8 In Matthew
6 Three words for teach are used in Acte 18:25-26. Apollos was orally
informed (katke) about the way of the Lord, he himself publicly and diligently taught (didask) the things of the Lord, and Aquila and Priscilla set
before (ektithmi) Apollos the meaning of the way of God more thoroughly.
Apollos was quite a learner and teacher !
7 The thought of this verse may be that learners should help support their
teachers financially, or it may be that the learners should share with their
teachers in all virtues, i.e., they should imitate their virtues.
* Mathts occurs nowhere else in the New Testament other than in the
Gospels and Acts.

GREEK WORDS FOR "TEACH"

IBS

27:57 mathte is used intransitively and means "to be a pupil


or disciple." Joseph of Arimathea had become a disciple
of Jesus.
In the three other occurrences, mathte is used transitively and means "to make a disciple of, to teach so that one
becomes a disciple." Christ referred to scribes who became
disciples of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 28:19). Paul and
Barnabas "preached the gospel" and made disciples of many
people in the city of Derbe (Acts 14:21). The preaching of
the gospel was accompanied by the making of loyal disciples.
The use of mathte in Matthew 28:19 is interesting. It is
the one command in Matthew 28:19-20 ; the other verbal forms
("go," "baptizing," and "teaching") are all present participles.
"Go ye therefore" should be rendered, "Therefore as ye are
going." The suggestion is that wherever the disciples go, they
should make disciples, and the way to make disciples is by
baptizing them (implying and testifying to personal acceptance of Christ) and instructing (didaskontes) them. The making of a disciple of Christ, then, includes leading him to Christ
as Savior, helping him make public profession of that faith,
and teaching him to observe or practice all the things commanded by Christ. As A. B. Bruce explains: "didaskontes
[is a] present participle, implying that Christian instruction
is to be a continuous process, not subordinate to and preparing
for baptism, but continuing after baptism with a view to enabling disciples to walk worthily of their vocationterein:
the teaching is with a view not to gnosis but to practice ; the
aim not orthodox opinion but right living."?
The noun mathts, "disciple or pupil," is used of the
twelve disciples of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 10:1), of Jesus' followers
in general (e.g., Luke 6:17), of individuals such as Ananias
(Acts 9:10), Timothy (Acts 16:1), and Mnason (Acts 21:16).
In the Gospels "the disciples" sometimes refers to the Twelve
(Matt. 13:10). In the book of Acts the term "the disciples"
usually refers to Christians in general (Acts 6:1, 7).
The word mathtoi suggests those who accept the teachings
of someone and become his followers. It involves not only
learning about the teachings of the instructor but being a loyal
9 Alexander Balmain Bruce, "The Synoptic Gospels," The Expositor's Greek
Testament, I, 340.

BIBLIOTHECA

16U

SACRA

April, 1965

follower of that one and his teachings. Such are true disciples
of Christ those who know His teachings and are loyal
followers of Him.
MANTHANO

Sometimes manthan means "to learn in the sense of studying or in some way increasing one's knowledge." Other times
it means "to learn in the sense of practicing or experiencing
habitually." The former meaning is suggested in I Corinthians
14:31, "For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may
learn." Our Lord knew various writings though He never
studied (manthan) them (John 7:15), for He in His omniscience knows all things. He told His disciples to learn a
parable (Matt. 24:32). Paul exhorted Timothy to "continue
. . . in the things which thou hast learned" (II Tim. 3:14), for
he had learned the Scriptures from Paul.
As for the second meaning of manthan, Arndt and Gingrich suggest that it is to "appropriate to oneself less through
instruction than through experience or practice."10 For example, Paul states that he had learned to be content regardless
of his circumstances (Phil. 1:11). Paul urges children to learn
to show piety at home "for that is good and acceptable before
God" (I Tim. 5:4). Believers are to learn to maintain good
works (Titus 3:14). Christ learned the ultimate in obedience
by the things which He suffered (Heb. 5:8).
It is interesting to note that this learning can take place
through following the example of others, as well as through
instruction by others (see I Cor. 4:6). Christ urges men to
"learn from (apo) me" (Matt. 11:29), that is, to learn His
teachings and also to learn from His example.
The ultimate in Christian learning is to "learn Christ"
(Eph. 4:20) not simply to learn about Him (though that is
certainly essential), but to go a step beyond that and to learn
Him. This is what Paul refers to in Philippians 3:10, "that
I may know him."
According to this verb manthan, learning is a matter of a
pupil acquiring knowledge of content through a teacher to the
extent that such knowledge is experienced in the life.
10

William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon


of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 491.

GREEK WORDS FOR "TEACH"

165

KATAMANTHANO

This verb, a compound of the verb manthan, "to learn by


study or practice," means "to study carefully so that one learns
thoroughly." It is used only in Matthew 6:28 where it is translated in the Authorized Version, "Consider the lilies of the
field." Bruce suggests that it means "to observe [the lilies]
well that ye may well learn thoroughly the lesson they teach."11
In Genesis 24:21 the Septuagint uses katamanthan. Abraham's servant "observed" Rebekah, thus learning her disposition by seeing her actions.
PAIDEUO

The verb paideu is translated several times in the Authorized Version by the word "chastise." But as Trench points out,
this was not the original meaning of the word.12 "For the
Greek, paideia was simply 'education'."^ But many Greeks
felt, as Trench points out, "that effectual instruction for the
sinful children of men includes and implies chastening, o r . . .
'correction'."1*
It is clear from the cognate nouns pais, a child, and
paidion, a young child, that paideu pertains to children. The
noun paideia (translated "nurture" in Eph. 6:4 ; "instruction"
in II Tim. 3:16; and "chastening" in Heb. 12:5, 7,11) initially
meant "the whole training and education of children (which
relates to the cultivation of mind and morals) and employs for
this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof
and punishment."1*
In other words, paidem basically means "to bring up, train,
or educate." Moses was trained or educated "in all the culture
of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), and Paul was educated "according to the law of the fathers" (Acts 22:3).
The grace of God has "educational benefits." It teaches
(educates) us to the intent that (hina), denying ungodliness
and wordly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and
godly (Titus 2:11-12). And the Word of God is profitable for
"education ['instruction' in the A.V.] in righteousness" (II
Tim. 3:16). Fathers are to bring up their children "in the
"
Bruce, op. cit., I, 126.
12
Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 111.
13 Ibid.
M Ibid.
15 Thayer, op. cit., p. 473.

166

BIBLIOTHECA SACRA

April,

1965

education ['nurture' in the A.V.] and admonishing of the


Lord" (Eph. 6:4).*
The corrective element in paideu is seen in I Timothy 1:20.
Hymenaeus and Alexander were given over to Satan that they
might be trained (or corrected or chastened) not to blaspheme.
God's servants must in meekness correct or chasten those who
put themselves in opposition to the truth (II Tim. 2:25).
Whom the Lord loves He chastens or corrects, much as a
father chastens his own children (Heb. 12:6, 7, 9-11; Rev.
3:19). Believers who do not judge and correct themselves are
corrected by the Lord (I Cor. 11:31-32).
PARAT1THEM1

Paratithmi, "to set or place before or beside," is commonly


used with regard to food "to set food before someone." But
in Matthew 13:24, 31 Christ set (paratithmi) a parable
before His disciples as He taught. In other words, He placed
the truth before them so they could comprehend it.
In the middle voice paratithmi means "to set forth from
or for one's self." Thus Paul set forth to the Thessalonians
that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 17:3, "alleging" in the A.V.).
No doubt he did this in such a way that they understood it,
because "some of them believed" (Acts 17:4).
Paul set before Timothy a charge (I Tim. 1:18). And Paul
told Timothy that the things that he had heard from Paul he
was to set before reliable men so they would instruct others
(II Tim. 2:2). This is the "endless chain of teacher training
and Gospel propaganda."1?
SUMBIBAZO

This verb means "to bring together or unite" (Eph. 4:16;


Col. 2:2, 19), "to conclude in one's mind by putting facts
together" (Acts 16:10), and "to cause a person to unite with
one in a conclusion, or to prove by putting facts together"
(Acts 9:22). Perhaps this last meaning is the way to understand the word in I Corinthians 2:16, "For who hath known
16
Whereas paideia suggests education, with corrective, disciplinary measures included, nouthesia (translated "admonition") is "training by word by
the word of encouragement, when this is sufficient, but also by that of remonstrance, of reproof, of blame, where these may be required" (Trench, op. cit.,
p. 112).
17 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New
Testament,
IV, 616.

GREEK WORDS POR "TEACH"

167

the mind of the Lord that he may instruct (sumbibaz) him?"


In other words, who can cause God to agree with him, as if he
can teach God anything? And of course the implied answer is
"No one." Acts 9:22 and I Corinthians 2:16 are the only verses
in the New Testament in which sumbibaz has this meaning
of teaching. But in the Septuagint the word has this meaning
several times (cf. Ex. 4:12, 15; 18:16; Lev. 10:11; Deut. 4:9;
Isa. 40:13-14; Dan. 9:22).
SUNIEMI

This verb means "to understand, comprehend, gain insight


into something." The basic underlying meaning is "to put facts
together and thus arrive at an understanding."
Several times in the Gospels sunimi is followed by an accusative, each time with reference to Christ's teachings. In the
parable of the sower, the seed in the good ground represents
the person who hears the Word and understands it (Matt.
13:19, 23). After Christ spoke several parables, His disciples
said they understood them (Matt. 13:51). But when Christ told
His disciples about His death and resurrection, they "understood none of these things" (Luke 18:34). Then after His
resurrection, He opened (dianoig) their understanding
(nous) that they might understand (sunimi) the Scriptures
(Luke 24:45).
After Christ told the parable of the leaven to the disciples,
He had to explain it to them before they understood (Matt.
16:11-12). Likewise His disciples did not understand His reference to Elijah until He explained to them that He meant
John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11-13). This verb is also used in
Ephesians 5:17, "understanding what the will of the Lord is."
Thus the verb sunimi suggests insight into and comprehension of the things of God. Such insight comes to believers
as they are taught by the Holy Spirit.
CONCLUSION

These Greek words give us several indications of the educational philosophy and practice of our Lord and of church
leaders. We would do well to heed and follow these principles.
Teaching is communicating facts from one person to another (or others). It includes the explaining of truths so that
they are clear and understandable by the pupils. This implies

168

BIBLIOTHECA

SACRA

April, 1965

relating Bible truths to the learners' age-level and level of


comprehension.
Teaching is a "helping ministry"helping pupils know
and live God's truths. It includes motivating pupils to learn
and helping them to be willing to receive and apply the content
being taught.
Teaching was often done in groups, but not to the exclusion
of teaching individuals. Education is a catechetical process, an
informing of others by oral instruction.
Teaching "the things of the Lord" (Acts 18:25) is to result
in godly living. The aim of sound doctrine is upright practice.
Knowledge acquired is to be experienced in the life. A disciple
of the Lord is one who, in addition to learning facts about the
Lord, is a loyal follower of the Lord, devoted to following His
teachings as well as comprehending His teachings.
Learning is an active process in which the pupil seeks to
understand, to consider carefully, to be receptive to the body
of truth being taught.
Teachers should teach by example of life as well as by
oral instruction.
The education of children involves total training in the
ways of the Lord, to be done primarily in the home.
Christian education must recognize the divine element
essential in Bible teaching. Only God can really open the hearts
of hearers to receive and appropriate His Word to their lives.

^ s
Copyright and Use:
As an ATLAS user, you may print, download, or send articles for individual use
according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international copyright law and as
otherwise authorized under your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement.
No content may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the
copyright holder(s)' express written permission. Any use, decompiling,
reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a
violation of copyright law.
This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS collection with permission
from the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder for an entire issue of a journal
typically is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However,
for certain articles, the author of the article may maintain the copyright in the article.
Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific
work for any use not covered by the fair use provisions of the copyright laws or covered
by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the
copyright holder(s), please refer to the copyright information in the journal, if available,
or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s).
About ATLAS:
The ATLA Serials (ATLAS) collection contains electronic versions of previously
published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS
collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association
(ATLA) and received initial funding from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The design and final form of this electronic document is the property of the American
Theological Library Association.